Guitars, BBQ sauce, Big Cars, and My Father-in-Law, Mr. John McKinney

I wrote a post or two about my father-in-law here and here.  He was recovering from a major stroke, living with a failing heart, and what the old folks used to say was sugar.  Mr. McKinney died last Sunday night, eight days after we’d last seen him, at Allegiance Hospital in Jackson, Michigan. 

Yesterday we celebrated him at a memorial service.  I wanted to post a few thoughts about him, about me.

When I think about Mr. McKinney, I think of the way he grabbed and pulled me into a hug, slapping my back, saying “Hey, Mike” in an almost song, every time we saw each other.  I think about the pictures on all the walls at his business, photos of blues singers and bands I was too young to recognize.  I think of all the guitars hanging under those pictures.  I think of amps and note spellers and organs.  I smell the smoke somehow seeping through the walls from the bar next to his last store on Western.

I think of how, without fail, he asked me about work and cars.  How’s the job?  How’s the car?  He believed in work.  He loved cars.  I think of his nice 1976 Jaguar–that I still haven’t ridden in–and all the other long cars Dawn told me about that he once drove.

I think about diabetes and one touch tests and how more people are expected to get the disease.  I think about my attempts and his family’s attempts to convince him to live better, to ingest his medication, to take his health seriously.  I think about the sinking feeling of failure I carried when leaving Ingalls earlier this year or that one day five years ago leaving St. Francis (when it was St. Francis) with me and Dawn dressed up and celebrating valentine’s day under the shadow of a doctor’s hardly heard admonitions.  I think about the way Mr. McKinney, with just a little pride, told the chaplain standing over his bed once that he had no need for him because his son-in-law was a minister.

During the earlier days of our relationship, I think of the way my then girlfriend used to claim drinking her father’s bbq sauce because it was so good.  I remember tasting the bbq sauce at his home in Hazelcrest on summer days and hearing the bones fall to the floor to Mack and Shane, his beloved shepherd and lab.  I think about his words when I asked for his permission to marry his daughter.  I think about the joy in his tone when he found out all those years later that our boy was coming.  I think about the yelling and screaming the boy rendered last spring when Mr. McKinney rode in the back of the car, to the train station, trying to feed Bryce a bottle when all the boy did was yell or sing or terrify his grandfather that last time before any more hospitals had him.  I think about the bursts of progress between those long days after we had our first son, when any change gave us hope.  I miss him.  I miss him being in that hospital, at his mother’s or anywhere, slapping my back, brightening up at the sight of my wife and his daughter.  I miss a lot already.


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